'I can score goals to give us real chance of title' - Wayne Rooney
Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30
Wayne Rooney has challenged himself to score the goals that will deliver the Premier League title for Manchester United this season after insisting that his days as the team's hole-filler were over.
It sums up the paradox of Rooney's recent United career that it has taken the signings of two defensive midfielders to restore him to the front and centre of Louis van Gaal's plans at Old Trafford.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin giving United experience, strength and quality at the heart of the team, Rooney has been given a defined role further forward by Van Gaal, who sees his captain as the tip of a 4-3-3 formation, a striker in the same bracket as Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero.
Despite posting his lowest goal return for United last season since arriving from Everton in 2004, Rooney will shoulder the goalscoring burden in the forthcoming campaign and the 29-year-old insists that, after plugging gaps in midfield for too long, he can prove he remains one of the game's most potent strikers.
"My best position, and I have always said it, is as a striker, getting into the box," Rooney said. "And the two seasons I have really done that as a lone striker have been my two best goalscoring seasons. It is where the manager and myself see my best position.
"Hopefully I can get a good run of games and repay the manager and score goals for the team, but it (pressure) is obviously on me to do that.
"I have no doubts that I can score 20 goals or more again and I am ready to take on that mantle and be the one who gets the goals for this team. If I play up there again this season, then I can get the goals. It is where I like and it is where I will play."
As he claims, Rooney's most prolific campaigns for United have been when he occupied the 'No 9' centre-forward role for the team. In 2009-10 he scored 34 goals in all competitions, having been asked to fill the goalscoring hole left by the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, then in 2011-12 he hit the same number.
In his nine other seasons in a United shirt, Rooney has failed to break the 20-league goal barrier, with Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Van Gaal all, at times, using the England captain in a variety of deeper-lying positions.
While Rooney, who is 20 goals short of breaking Bobby Charlton's all-time United record of 249, insists he has always accepted the need to sacrifice himself for the team, he believes the numbers point to where he is most valuable for club and country.
"I have played different roles over the years for United, but you only have to look when I play for England as a striker, I score goals," Rooney said.
"I hope to score 20 or more goals again this season. If I am playing as a striker, I will be disappointed if I cannot that do that. The last time I really played the full season as a striker was 2011-12. All the other seasons, I have been up front, then in midfield or out wide, so hopefully if I will stay up front.
"But I don't think I have sacrificed myself too much over the years. Football is a team game and you win and lose together. I have been successful and won a lot of trophies with United and I think there are times when you have to do things for the good of the team and I feel I have done that. I have played deeper or wider some seasons and won Premier League medals.
"If the manager wants me to do different jobs I will do it. But with the quality we have brought into the squad and the numbers we have brought in, the manager has options in midfield, so there shouldn't be a need to play there."
After two seasons without a trophy following Ferguson's retirement, the pressure is on Van Gaal to restore United to winning ways following a 12-month spending spree of almost £300m.
Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin have bolstered midfield, Memphis Depay has added pace and a goal threat up front, while Italy defender Matteo Darmian has been signed to solve United's right-back problem.
All four signings showed glimpses of their quality in United's pre-season tour win against Club America in Seattle at the weekend and Rooney (left) believes Van Gaal's new-look squad are capable of challenging for the title.
"Can we challenge for the title? Yes, I think so," he said.
"At times last season, we were very good in some of the big games and that added quality will help us be a bit more consistent and it will give us a real chance at the title."
United take on San Jose Earthquakes in California tonight before facing Barcelona and Paris St Germain in San Francisco and Chicago respectively. (© Daily Telegraph, London)